Impatiens are among the most popular annual bedding plants used in home and commercial landscapes. Known for their suitability for growing in shady conditions, many types of impatiens are ideal for planting in areas where sunlight is limited. Impatiens are available in three different sizes—dwarf, medium and tall—and come in a wide variety of colors. These plants grow best in areas that have fertile soil, humid summers and protection from direct sunlight.
Impatiens is among one of the 500 species in the family Balsaminaecae. This family also includes the garden balsam and New Guinea impatiens, a hybrid introduced in 1989 that can tolerate more direct sunlight than other varieties. Impatiens, also known as busy lizzy or touch-me-not, received their name because they easily release and scatter their seed at the slightest touch.
Impatiens were discovered growing throughout eastern Africa, and believed to be a native of Zanzibar, an island off the coast of present-day Tanzania. The Impatiens sultana, a type of impatiens named in honor of the Sultan of Zanzibar, was later changed to Impatiens wallerana, after Horace Waller, a British missionary who traveled to Africa in 1861 as lay superintendent of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa. Dr. John Kirk, a British physician and naturalist, introduced impatiens to the western world in 1896.
Impatiens were only originally available as an open pollination plant with a small variety of bloom colors in the 1950s. In later years, growers used a method called hybridization to develop seed as well as to expand the variety of colors and flower shapes now available on today’s market.
Impatiens can grow between 6 inches and 2 feet tall depending upon plant spacing, soil conditions and sunlight received each day. They are available in 15 solid colors, three bi-colors and five with white star centers. Flowers of impatiens can be single, semi-double or double blooms that closely resemble those of a rose.
Impatiens of all varieties can be started from seed indoors six to 10 weeks prior to the last frost. The simplest method of establishing new impatiens in an area is with young transplants that are readily available from local nurseries and home improvement centers. Most types of impatiens prefer partial to full shade planting sites, except the New Guinea hybrid. Keep the soil moist, yet well drained, and provide extra nutrients for plants grown under trees.